Kouda definitely needed a new pair of boots. There truly was no worse sensation than the wet smoosh of socks inside a leaky boot. More than the sore wrist from punching a thief whose mutated head was as hard as concrete; more than the stink of garbage that clung to his clothes after their brief but intense alley-fight; more even than the fatigue in his bones from too little sleep, Kouda hated walking in the rain with wet feet.
The corner coffee shop was just opening as he approached his office building, and the pull of caffeine and breakfast was strong, but he was already running late, and being out on the street in his costume was enough of a risk. He’d run, but... But tired. But drained. But wet socks.
But Komura-san could be counted on to have coffee waiting, and the thought kept Kouda ploughing on to the nondescript corner-unit, up the steps and into the unmarked door to the locker room. Boots off, socks off (bliss!) coat off and hanging up for cleaning, and Kouda in just his plain grey cargo pants and a clean warm sweater. Bare feet in dry slip-on canvas shoes. Mask off, checked carefully for damage, and packed into its box, and a fresh cotton face-mask in its place. And through into the main office, where Komura was in the middle of pouring coffee into Kouda’s favourite mug.
“I was five minutes away from beeping you, then I heard the door.” She added soy milk from the fridge, and handed the mug to Kouda. He wrapped both hands around it, belatedly aware of how cold it must have been outside for him to need the heat. Komura gave him time to flop into one of the bigger padded chairs, to raise his mask enough for a sip of coffee, and to readjust it until he felt comfortable enough to speak.
“Break-in,” he huffed, feeling his coffee-warmed breath inside the mask. “Convenience store.”
Komura gave him a quick once-over, before pouring a second drink for herself.
“You made it back under your own steam, and I don’t see any injuries, so I’m assuming it’s all dealt with.” She waited for Kouda to give a thumbs-up. “Police informed?” He nodded. “And you’ll write up a full report for me before you clock out.”
That needed no response. Kouda’s paperwork was consistent, and he ranked second to Shouji only because Komura disliked his tendency to give rather too much detail (Kouda could write essays on the socio-economic factors driving opportunistic criminals).
A few minutes later, a plate of toast with Kouda’s favourite blackberry jam was placed on the coffee table in front of him. He caught Komura’s eye and nodded a thanks before taking it to his desk, putting plate and cup aside to boot up his laptop.
The report was fairly straightforward. Early hours of the morning, alley patrol, rats noticed a disturbance. Rock-headed individual seen head-butting the (flimsy) lock on a store’s back door. Rats sent in to disable. Rock-head turned out to have rock body, impervious to rat bites (several rats injured by crowbar-blows). Emergency SMS sent to local police. Warning calls using voice amplifier ignored. Rock-headed individual attempted to incapacitate Kouda with afore-mentioned crowbar; did not expect kevlar under-armour. Punches were thrown, Rock-head was swiftly immobilised (not before getting a hit to Kouda’s left boot with point of crowbar, causing a crack in the leather, and Kouda’s foot still felt damp). Police-approved zip-tie used on Rock-head’s wrists. Rock-head left (mostly conscious) by door to said convenience store. Police arrived on-scene as Kouda disappeared into the shadows.
He did not include mention of the garbage can thrown at him, or the distress at walking through the early-morning drizzle with a leaking boot. He refrained from repeating the part about the three injured rats. He would mourn them later, at home, with clean socks on.
Across the room, Komura worked quietly at her own desk. She knew better than to try to make unnecessary conversation at the best of times, and when Kouda was back from patrol (and recovering from a fight), she could be counted on to let him work in silence. After finishing his toast, he transferred photos from his phone of the damage caused by the thief, and saved the report to the office’s shared drive. Once Komura’s computer beeped in response to the update, she called a quiet thanks, and he sat back, feeling the last of the tension drain from his hunched shoulders.
“There’s more coffee in the pot,” she told him. Before he could voice his confusion, she continued. “Ojiro’s picking up breakfast for everyone on his way in. I know you should be clocking out now, but I’m gonna have to keep you a little longer.” She drained the last of her own coffee and stood to pour herself a second. “This was a bit last-minute for me too, but I got an e-mail yesterday - who sends business e-mails at the end of the day? - and long story short, we might be collaborating with another hero on something.” When she took a sip of her coffee without adding any milk, Kouda guessed it must be something serious. No doubt she’d been working through the night on whatever it was, if she was caffeine-desperate enough to go for black coffee.
He raised his brows expectantly, but she shook her head.
“I’m not going to go through it again when everyone else gets here. We’ll wait for the others and have breakfast first. I’m not doing business until I’ve had at least one more coffee and some actual food.” She softened a little when she saw him sag. “We have a meeting scheduled with our...guest, I guess, at nine. If you want, you can nap in meeting room two until then.”
It was a real temptation, but Kouda reasoned that napping now would leave him groggy and bad-tempered if he had to wake up and sit through a meeting. Instead, he opted to open up his laptop again and check the morning news. A few minutes in, and the door to meeting room one clicked open. Shun stuck his head out, and after a quick hello to Kouda, he waved to Komura.
“Everything’s set and ready in here, boss. I'm going to clock out, if that's okay." The door opened a little wider, and Kouda was pleased to see Tofu slip into the main room. The cat immediately headed for Kouda, jumping into his lap and rubbing against his stomach. After accepting a brief chin-rub, she hopped up to curl into her usual spot on Kouda’s broad shoulder, purring softly. Kouda took comfort in her warmth as he went back to absently browsing the headlines. It was mostly politics, with a couple of international extreme weather stories; like everyone else at the agency, he kept an eye out for mention of his old school friends, always reassured on days when there were no big emergencies that had called for the top heroes. He waved a polite goodbye to Shun as the night manager collected his stuff and left, before turning back to his reading.No mention of any UA alumni apart from a photo of Aoyama at some TV event.
Shouji was the next to arrive at the office, coming in through the front door rather than the locker-room entrance. He stashed his laptop bag on his desk, hung up a black umbrella that was still damp from the morning rain, and gave a quiet ‘good morning’ before making tea from his own stash in the kitchenette. Although he couldn’t stand the taste of Shouji’s preferred tea, Kouda enjoyed the strong grassy smell of it whenever Shouji made a cup; it was as much an integral part of the office as Tofu’s quiet purring and Komura’s speed-typing.
Five minutes later, and Ojiro bustled in with three boxes in his arms, all labelled with the logo of the convenience store Kouda had saved from robbery that morning.
“Apparently breakfast is courtesy of the Ratman today,” he announced, pretending to look confused before winking at Kouda. “When I called at the store, the owner told me this fascinating story about arriving at work to find the police arresting some block-head who’d tried to break in, only some mysterious underground hero caught him in the act.” He set the boxes down on the coffee table and Komura immediately set to opening them, claiming a croissant for herself. “The police got a call from Ratman and turned up to find a broken door, a cuffed robber, and a dead rat. Why that should entitle us to free pastries, I do not know, but what kind of weirdo turns down a free breakfast? Right, Kouda-kun?” Ojiro wrapped a pastry in a paper napkin and turned to pour himself a cup of coffee. “Sorry about the rat, though.”
Kouda shrugged. It always saddened him, but he would make sure to leave some good food in that same alley on his way home as thanks. He stood carefully, Tofu still perched on his shoulder, and moved back to his usual seat by the coffee table to join the others.
“Ojiro, please don’t say ‘block-head’.” Shouji opened up the other two store boxes, no doubt looking for something vaguely healthy.
“He literally had a block for a head.”
“And he might be very sensitive about it.”
“Not sensitive enough to stop him head-butting a door with his big blocky head.”
“Guys, enough.” Komura set her cup on the coffee table a little louder than necessary. “Ojiro-kun, don’t make me schedule another quirk-sensitivity training day. You’re supposed to be the one setting the good example for others. Or do I have to cancel your next school talk?”
Ojiro muttered an apology, hiding his smile behind his breakfast.
“Ojiro-kun?” Kouda’s voice was always muffled a little behind his mask, so he took care to pronounce his words precisely. “That gang yesterday?”
It took a second for Ojiro to remember what Kouda was talking about, during which Komura visibly relaxed at the change of subject.
“Oh, them? They weren’t organised enough to be called a gang.” He wiped sugar from around his mouth before continuing. “Just a bunch of hoodlums with nothing better to do. The oldest two, I had picked up by the police. The younger ones, I personally escorted to Iida-kun’s place. Suggested they sign up for a couple of classes. Iida says it’s amazing how actually learning to fight properly can set kids on the straight and narrow.”
“It’s the discipline,” Shouji said, picking apart a savoury bun. “A healthy body, a healthy mind, foster a healthy attitude.”
“That, and Iida’s classic lecture about how one mistake -”
“ - Can alter your whole life,” everyone recited in unison.
They passed a couple of minutes working through their pastries and drinks, catching up on work news and family news until Ojiro asked the obvious question.
“So what’s with the cryptic messages, Komura-san? Gonna tell us why we’re all in early today?”
Komura brushed powdered sugar from her hands as she turned to grab some papers from her desk.
“Last night - ten minutes before the end of business hours, I should point out - I got an e-mail from another pro-hero. He noticed some suspicious activities in the retail district nearby and wants some assistance with surveillance. Apparently that’s not his strong point. He wants us to do some recon to help figure out exactly what’s going on.”
“Ojiro and I patrol the retail area almost daily,” Shouji countered. “We haven’t noticed anything out of the ordinary lately.”
“This is after-hours stuff, apparently,” she explained, “and not so unusual that Kouda would have picked up on it either.”
“Who is it?” asked Ojiro. “Anyone we know?”
“Actually, yes.” They all looked at her expectantly.
“Well?” Ojiro, the least patient of them all. “Are you going to tell us, or are you hoping he’ll walk in right now for a dramatic reveal?”
The four of them as one turned to the door and watched.
No one appeared.
They looked at each other again, with embarrassed laughter from Ojiro.
“Okay, no drama.” Komura shuffled the papers in her hands. “It’s Tsukuyomi.”
“Yes, I set up a meeting with - “
The door clicked open, a muffled but familiar voice called, “Hello?”
“Dammit, I was so close!”